The Don walked into the abandoned room and immediately saw the row of Tech Guild members, each waiting on their knees with their hands tied behind their backs and their eyes covered in blindfolds.
He didn’t have time for that. He didn’t have time for anything, really, but he especially didn’t have time for the LBA and the Shadow Conclave and the Tech Guild and all these shady secret organizations trying to change the world completely from the shadows of its hidden corners.
You had to be in the front of the fight to have impact. You had to be blunt and in the open.
“Remove the blind folds.”
His men did so. They were five, four of them women, and they instantly found the Don’s gaze. They could probably feel it since before he walked into the room.
He didn’t say anything or do anything to them for a few seconds, letting them acclimate to the dark damp room they were in. The kind of place where they could easily die and no one would know or care.
Then, he approached and crouched to look the first one of them in the eyes. They were green, with a sliver of self-reflection. He looked into them, finding belligerence. He saw protest and defiance for the three seconds the man held his gaze, he then blinked and looked away.
Lazaros snapped his finger to call his gaze back and the man obeyed, looking at Don again.
He saw hope for survival in the midst of his questioning glance.
The Don stepped to the side and gazed at the woman. She had boyish hair, cut short and dark, and her eyes were brown. She looked away almost immediately. Again, he snapped his fingers to make her hold his eyes. She did not.
He grumbled and moved on to the next.
Her eyes were brown, almost as dark as her skin, looking from behind a black hair that surrounded her head like a curtain. She didn’t break his gaze, meeting it with challenging contempt.
He stood up and moved to the next one. Another dark-skinned girl, with brown eyes that seemed scared. She looked away and he snapped his fingers to make her look back.
The Don said nothing and merely stared at her, judging the flow of emotions coursing in her mind behind those almond eye balls. She didn’t break her gaze even through incessant blinking.
Finally, he moved to the last one. She had a scarf around her bald head, bright yellow over her already very pale skin. She also didn’t look away, keeping his gaze with mostly indifferent acceptance.
The Don broke away and put some steps between himself and them. Then he pulled out a cigar and lit it.
“Alright, so ya started that dumb freakin’ mess that ended up costin’ lives, of my countrymen among them. But I know who you work for, see? I know yer intentions. But still, this’s my territory and Griff shouldn’t’ve have sent ya to make a mess out of my operations.”
He took a deep sigh of the cigar.
“Now, yer lucky I need every spare o’ hands I can get, see? You a bunch o’ fighters? You can fight fer me.”
They looked up at him, every single one except for the pale bald woman, she just rolled her eyes. Which was a skillfully thing to know when he couldn’t even see her face properly.
“But I don’t want some flimsy cowards that’re gonna run out on me first chance they get, so I wanna know right now, see? You in to beat these beasts or what?”
“Yes, I want to beat them!”
Two of the women nodded without saying anything, the scared one who wouldn’t look at him and the one with contempt.
“Push off,” said the bald one.
He walked off heading towards the door, to leave, and caught the ears of one of his soldiers.
“Alright. Kill the bald one and the guy, draft the rest.”
He nodded and Lazaros left.
That was one skill that Lazaros had always possessed. It was how he knew the twins he had recruited from Giuseppe would stay loyal. And it was how he knew the three he would allow to remain alive would fight for Igtahlia, at least long enough to make a difference.
They would probably die but that was life in the front-lines.
Sending people off to die in a battle was a hard and harsh capacity to have but it wasn’t anything new to the Don, especially one who had worked tirelessly to become the Don of Dons.
Lazaros left the house at a quick march, motioning for the two lieutenants to follow him.
“Barricades are up.”
“Most of the refugees’re already out.”
“Madonn, finally,” the Don thanked with a sneer, he was sick of having to worry about them, they had been a logistical nightmare all week. “Any recruits?”
“Too few to mention.”
“Fanabala, those people, just going through life expectin’ others to save ‘em.”
They both shrugged in response, which was fair enough.
“The Frattarolis are acting pretty squeamish. They’re sluggish and complaining a lot. The Magnottis keep threatening to kill us.”
“So what’s new?” Giuseppe’s people knew what had happened with his family, they were understandably the sorest of all the losers. “I’ll talk to Tulio.”
“He probably skipped town already, see?” Lazaros casually informed, “get someone to check on that.”
One of them nodded and walked off, just as someone else walked up to him.
“Celio wants ya.”
Lazaros raised a peculiar eyebrow.
“Well you can tell ‘im I’m flattered but not unless he buys me dinner, first.”
Antonio, his lieutenant, snorted at that. The woman rolled her eyes.
“You know what I mean, Don. He wants to talk to you.”
Lazaros’s temper flared.
“Woman, there hasn’t been a single damn moment since those damn things came into our country that I haven’t been a whole lot of busy. What makes ‘im think I got time now?”
“He thought you’d say that. He said he’s considering sending the remaining military to Brithan instead of having them die here, fighting a lost battle.”
Lazaros didn’t like how Antonio slumped, and was immediately enraged she would say that outloud. And that Celio would entertain that idea in the first place. And that he’d tell people about it even! Were they so oblivious to the concept of morale? Were they clueless to how thinly everyone was teethering on the edge of surrender?
Igtahlia was down to Varanopolis. It still had more territory but it was mainly open country and a few villages. The rest was taken. If cities that had been destroyed, and in the case of Venetzia sunk, could be considered taken. They sure could be considered lost, that was for sure.
The woman noticed his anger, he knew by how she stepped back.
“I’m sorry, Don, I’m just the messenger here.”
He breathed out, calming himself.
“Yeah, well, give it in writing, next time, see? Tell Celio I’ll be along soon as possible.”
“He uh…” she hesitated, knowing she had to tread lightly. “Told me to take you. Immediately”
“What am I, some kinda brat playing games on the street? I’ll go to him soon, tell him I had to go to the damn bathroom or somethin’.”
He turned around and walked away.
“Antonio, can you-ah-check up on Michela?”
“Sure, boss. I can do that.”
“Good. I want to hear about the state o’ the front after that.”
It would be reaching the city soon, he knew. The rate at which the beasts advanced was ridiculous, even by monster standards. The things were more unstoppable than he had ever expected, it was no wonder they had gotten as far as they had in little over a week.
They did not seem to rest. Or to camp. They never seemed to stop in their stampede. The don had found ways to deal with the advancing force on three separate occasions, but all of them fell short of dealing with the actual enemy technology, and thus to incur even one casualty.
While his had reached thousands.
They had strong bulky vehicles that could burrow underground at the speed of a man’s run, and hovering transportation that was capable of fitting quite a large number of them, even if it couldn’t actually fly.
And what a number they had, on top of it all. Not only were their bodies seemingly impenetrable to all known methods of violence, but they numbered in the thousands.
Venetzia was when people’s hearts had been broken. They had achieved success there. They had stopped the advance and sunk the beasts, hoping they would drown.
They didn’t. They waited and dug on the ground to lower the water level. That was the thing about the beasts, even in waiting, they were acting. That kind of tireless will to act and to fight was, much as he knew, unmatched.
Now, only his home was left. Michela was hard at work trying to finish a new invention, something that might be able to dent the beasts, with the help of the Mad Genius. Together, they were working together to try and create a gun that could get through the beast’s armor.
It was their last chance, really, stopping the beasts was no longer an acceptable strategy. They needed the ability to destroy them.
The Don walked the now deserted streets of Varanopolis with a heavy heart. Seeing his home abandoned was a heavy blow, especially while knowing the rest of his country was already out of his hands and mostly in wrecked, obliterated ruins.
This has gone way worse than I expected.
But while he had not expected the war to go so badly, he could accurately expect the reactions of his detractors, the other bosses. All of them had been doing nothing but judging him behind his back, sending messages and threats every once in a while. He looked back at the twins, his de-facto bodyguards. They were good at keeping quiet and looking threatening.
“Boss,” one of them greeted.
The Don nodded and looked ahead.
“I’m meeting with Tulio.”
“We got your back.”
Lazaros gave them a thumbs up without looking back, and then drew a cigar and lit it. He took a comfortable breath.
“Boss, if you don’t mind me asking, do you even really like those?”
“Hm? The cigars?”
“It’s just I noticed you usually sneer when you put one in.”
Lazaros scoffed at the mention. They had a good eye, or at least that one did.
“I’m addicted, so there’s some pleasure to it, see? But no, they taste terrible.” He took another heavy breath of it, “but if I don’t, I gotta deal with withdrawal. Told myself I’d go through that soon as I could, fer my health sake, see?”
“How long ago’s it been? Since you made that call?”
Lazaros smiled at himself.
“Heh. Been twenty years, now that you mention it. Time flies when yer busy..”
“You haven’t found the time in all those years?”
The Don nodded, more to himself than to his bodyguards.
“You don’t get to my position by taking time off, boys. Maybe once we get done with these beasts.”
There was an uncomfortable silence following that. If Lazaros would channel Protos’s perspective, he would call the pause foreboding.
The meaning was obvious. Lazaros sighed and looked up at the sky.
Does anyone still believe we can win this thing?